Form Following Function (was Use of 3rd Rear Aerial)

Trans Vector Technologies, Inc

Message 19670 · 4 Dec 1999 13:22:55 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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>Just to play devil's advocate here... Oberdan, is every foot movement you
>make in ballroom dancing EASY?

It is not so much a question of what is EASY as whether the action
supports the movement you are doing.

A number of hours have passed while I was thought about Modern
Ballroom dancing steps (including body position and sways). For easy
and difficult steps alike I have concluded that, when done properly,
all of the steps I could think of supported the movements and
presentations they were trying to create. In the formalized dances
such as Waltz and Foxtrot, a lot of thought has been given to
balance, flow and proper body alignment. I did not thoroughly
appreciate this until we purchased videos of champion dancers
demonstrating and talking about basic (not necessarily elementary)
ballroom movements.

For example, a throwaway oversway (a picture figure in Waltz or
Foxtrot) is very difficult to learn and to execute correctly, but the
development of the body positions are based on sound principles of
balance and of Form Following Function. Although it is difficult, a
well-done throwaway oversway feels good AND presents a beautiful

>What exactly is so difficult about bringing
>the foot from 3rd rear aer. low to move forward (in general)? I agree that
>there are times when it IS downright awkward, makes the next move extremely
>difficult, etc. I also agree that to be done with grace requires practice.
>But does it by definition lack grace?

Again difficulty is not the issue. In a situation where there is not
a direction reversal, 3ra interrupts the forward flow. A very skilled
dancer can hide the break of flow, but it is nonetheless present. A
foot in 3ra does not have the forward momentum of a pull-through to
prepare for the compression and urge at the beginning of a
non-reversing travelling step. The resulting traveling step is

Consider the sequence: Set (right & left) and Turn with the right
hand. At the end of the 2nd setting step the body rotates slightly to
the left in anticipation of the upcoming travelling step and the very
end of the setting step is not distinguishable from a left traveling
step. Now do a pull-through through 1st position and you achieve a
seamless transition from setting to traveling. If you insert a 3ra,
the transition is somewhat harsh and the urge of the next traveling
step is compromised.

>I asked if anyone was aware at this point of the TRADITION behind our
>setting steps for precisely that reason. If someone were to come upon
>modern SCD and analyse it purely as a form of ballroom dance, one might
>decide that 3rd rear aer. low SHOULD only be used for direction reversals.
>But we do still (I think) have a little tradition left in the dance. Now,
>maybe tradition would also dictate that the steps should be executed
>according to what comes next. Then again, maybe we modern dancers are not
>adequately versed in how to move our feet.

I don't think modern dancers are any less capable than their
predecessors. But I do think that one is usually on shaky ground when
invoking "tradition" in SCD, especially as defined by the RSCDS. The
only consistent definition of "tradition" that I can think of in the
context of the RSCDS is what the current examiners consider to be
"correct". It has little to do with actual SCD history.

I believe that actions that are arbitrary or affected or that disturb
balance and flow in the dance can only persist historically if there
is an authority demanding them. An affectation may have been present
in a past period, but once the authority that insisted upon the
affectation went away, so did the affectation. Does the appearance of
something at some point in our history make it a "tradition"? I don't
think so. Something traditional is something that has existed and
continues to exists. In 1923 when Miss Milligan and Mrs. Stewart
(Stuart?) got together to form the SCDS, SCD had nearly vanished.
THERE WAS NO TRADITION! Those two ladies had to recreate it.

Some people speak of SCD as a "living tradition". To me "tradition"
means things that continue to be how they were, but "living" means
that things are changing. An oxymoron to be sure, but one which makes
a lot of people comfortable.

Anything arbitrary will exist only as long as an authority demands
it. Anything which exists in the category of Form Following Function
has a chance of actually becoming a tradition without the presence of
authority. Now that would be a worthy legacy for the RSCDS--promoting
a National social dance form with a rational basis and which was
largely self-sustaining.

>What about the beautiful,
>graceful dancers (from the UK) I have seen who always bring the foot to 3rd
>aer. low (front) in strathspey travelling steps?

Interesting! I haven't actually seen this, but it seems to mirror
what Highland dancers do in the Highland traveling step, except that
they take 1 beat to hop in 3ra (bounding, by the way) and another
beat to hop in 3rd front aerial (3fa), before stepping forward
(without compression and urge). Perhaps they are former Highland
dancers? In this case, if the point is to dance "by the book", then
although you achieve "finishing the setting step" in 3ra, 3fa is not
the starting position for a travelling step! So the dancers have kept
"purity" in one step while corrupting the next. Is the end of one
step more important than the beginning of the next step?

To be fair, we are encountering here the fundamental problem of step
transitions, because the end of one step does not match the beginning
of the next. Some transitions are natural while others require
adjustment of one step or the other or both to achieve a pleasing
flow. The subject of step transitions is complex and it is an area on
which our Manual is virtually silent. Many entreaties such as "finish
the step" which we consider as "by the book" are, in fact, NOT IN THE
BOOK. You will not find a discussion of how to transition between
setting and traveling in the Manual. I like to translate "finish the
step" as "fill the music with your dancing".

>Inquiring minds want to know...

Thanks for the opening, Norah. ;-)

Cheers, Oberdan.

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